Kamau Daaood: The Words of a Man
“ I think once the music had the tendency to create thinkers and artists, different ways of looking at the world, and depth of character, depth of thought. ”
At the Watts Jazz Festival, An Army of Healers heats up a late summer day in south central LA. with troopers like Kharon Harrison, Bobby Bryant, Jr., Trevor Ware, Derf Reklaw, Nate Morgan, and the soaring vocals of Dwight Trible. Leading the band, a man with a voice like a baritone sax solo, more Pepper than Mulligan, with an R&B rasp to his tone. Kamau Daaood easily holds his own, the words building imagistic phrases flashing pictures to the mind's eye, journeying back to reinforce the original idea, just like a saxophone solo. Now a veteran performer, one of his first readings found him unexpectedly leading the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra at the request of Horace Tapscott.
Asked to move to New York and join the Last Poets at the age of 18, Daaood refused and like Tapscott made "Act Locally" a reality to the improvement of his community. His protean jazz saturated lines have shared podiums with the likes of Gil Scott Heron and Amiri Baraka, and besides his CD Leimert Park , he's appeared on CDs by Dwight Trible and Derf Reklaw. This mid-fifties grandfather held a 20's trendy Temple Bar crowd enchanted performing with the dynamic Build An Ark, which he shrugs off when I mention it, ascribes it to sincerity. "I tell old school stories with a bebop tongue to the hip hop future. I see new rainbows in their eyes as we stand in the puddles of melted chains," he says on Leimert Park. His third book, The Language of Saxophones: Collected Works , comes out in April from San Francisco's City Lights Press. Kamau Daaood reconnects us to the current of words as Word.
AAJ: So, you grew up in LA?
Kamau Daaood: Yeah, homegrown. Actually, I was born in Santa Monica. My father was going to UCLA at the time. But I was raised in Los Angeles, went to Manual Arts High School, Washington High School, Southwest College.
AAJ: Was there jazz in the house?
KD: Music was a fixture in our house, constantly coming out of the speakers. None of my family were musicians. When my father got around a piano there were certain things he could pick out. I guess, just like any other home during that time, you had the radio and the record player. Mostly vocals, you know, Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Arthur Prysock, a lot of that stuff. Most of the folks around my parents' age listened to a lot of Jimmy Smith.
There's a few albums I've found and kept because I remember my people had them around. I remember this thing with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Stitt, released on Verve, I think. It had that tune, "After Hours" on there and that was one of the tunes my dad liked to pick out on the piano. Just music, man.
AAJ: Did you take to literature early on?
KD: Not really. Well, I guess it would be considered early. I had a friend in junior high school that opened my ears to some other kind of stuff, because he was into Kahil Gibran and he hipped me to it. And, I was accidentally put in a creative writing class. LA Unified couldn't get all the kids in one classroom, so they sent me over to this creative writing class instead of regular English class. That teacher's name was Mr. Siegel. The way he taught it, he made it fun. Come to think of it, even In elementary school I enjoyed writing stories, because I could write stories and make people laugh. You got to read your story in front of the class, and based upon what the story's about you can always find a way to get people giggling, get away with stuff you don't normally get away with on paper. That was the roots of writing.
I didn't get more serious into writing until the latter years of high school. And it was really a way of discovering self worth. I would write, and I was even writing poetry at that time, and people saw value in it. I had gym teachers read something that I wrote, and say, "Man, why are doing all this other stuff? You should be concentrating on this. This is really good." My classmates used to enjoy what I wrote, too. Really, during that time I was on another plane in terms of where my head was at, just young and in the streets. It was a way of identifying myself with something I could do that had value to people.
I was introduced to the Watts Writer's Workshop around that time, probably '67. I saw this program on television and heard this writing and could feel it. It wasn't like the kind of literature that was shared with us in the classroom. There was another edge to it that made a lot of sense. I could hear the music in it. I could hear things that related to me. And then I heard a radio ad on one of the local soul stations that talked about a branch of the Watts Writer's Workshop opening up on the westside, westside of Los Angeles at that time, I mean of the black community, which is pretty much this area [Leimert Park]. So, I went to one of the workshops and that was my door in. I was about 17.
The next major experience I had was seeing Amiri Baraka at the community center here in Los Angeles. He really married the whole concept of the music which we were so much into. We used to save our lunch money, hustle up our little money and buy records on the weekend, whatever Trane was coming out with, Archie Shepp records, all that kind of stuff.
When you think about what we were listening to at such a young age, and the concepts that were being espoused on the records themselves, on the back of the albums, read that material, the political stuff in there, and the spiritual content of the music at the time, and I compare that to the music that kids are subjected to today, in terms of the depth at the core of the music, we were very fortunate to live in that time. Living through that deepened us, and that's one of the problems I see with the youth and what they do. Basically, it's because what they've been fed. Even though there's a lot of rhythmatic sophistication, and talent and skill, I question a lot of the depth in terms of the human spirit and yearnings that they put forth.
Of course, I'm not saying that as a blanket statement. There's a lot of young people that are really doing exceptional work, exploring, and creating, and really pushing some great energy. But, that genre as a mass leaves a lot to be desired in terms of content.